The visitor from the United States sat in the back of the small Primary room in Peru. In many ways it was like any other Primary meeting around the world—a scripture was read, a prayer was given, young voices were raised in song. Then something startling happened: with no advance warning, the Primary president looked around the room and said, “Juan, will you come forward and give one of our talks?”
Juan walked to the front of the room, opened his scriptures, and ruffled through the pages until he came to a particular passage. He said, “One of my favorite scriptures is …” and then read the passage and explained what he believed it meant and how he and the other children could apply it. He concluded by bearing his testimony and returned to his seat (see Michaelene P. Grassli, What I Have Learned from Children , 67–68).
Children can certainly benefit from reading stories for Primary talks or family home evening presentations or repeating lines written by adults for sacrament meeting programs. However, as Juan showed, children can learn to speak from their hearts and in their own words. As they share their beliefs, the Holy Ghost can witness to them and their listeners of the truthfulness of the gospel.
How can parents help children learn to speak about the gospel?
1. Parents can help children make connections between their experiences and gospel principles. When Stephanie was asked to give a talk about the Holy Ghost, her mother suggested she include a personal experience. Stephanie said, “But I haven’t felt the Holy Ghost before.” Her mother replied: “Remember when you and your friend Eliza were talking about a lesson you had in Primary, and you later told me it made both of you feel happy to talk about things you learned at church? And remember one morning after we finished reading scriptures when you kept your scriptures open and reread the passages we had studied? You said it made you feel warm inside. Stephanie, during both of those experiences the Holy Ghost was testifying to you.”
Like Stephanie’s mother, parents can assist their children in preparing talks by watching, listening, and discussing experiences in the context of gospel teachings. They can demonstrate how to use the Topical Guide and the index in the scriptures to find helpful passages or stories of others who have applied gospel principles. In so doing, parents enable their children to understand, as did Nephi, that the scriptures can be likened “unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne. 19:23). They also thereby show how gospel principles can influence and guide our everyday lives and how personal experiences with these principles can be effectively used in talks.
2. Parents can allow for language-skill limitations and the reluctance of children to express their own feelings. A man asked his nine-year-old daughter Katherine about what blessings she thought would come from going to the temple. With paper and pencil in hand to record the responses, he seemed intimidating to young Katherine. After squirming and trying to recall answers she had heard others give before, she finally asked, “Dad, can’t I just tell you what I think?” “Yes, Katherine,” he replied. “That is what I really want.” There followed many wonderful thoughts about the temple from the heart of a child.
Children’s language skills are limited, so parents need to be patient as they gain experience. As parents discuss the gospel with their children, they can ask questions that invite more than yes or no answers and can give them plenty of time to respond. Some children are afraid that their expressions might be laughed at, so they are reluctant to share. They need to be reassured that their own thoughts are important as they give talks and bear their testimonies.
Children should also be encouraged to tell stories in their own words. To help a child prepare for a talk, a parent can tell a story to the child, then ask the child to retell it. During the first retelling, mistakes will likely be made and much of the story will not be included. Without criticizing, the parent can simply repeat the story, then invite the child to retell it. This can be a relaxed time of mutual enjoyment rather than a time of pressure to memorize adult words.
3. Parents can help older children learn to prepare talks independently. Eleven-year-old Jonathan was discouraged after being assigned to prepare a Primary talk on reverence. His mother advised him to pray and ask Heavenly Father to help him understand reverence better so that he could effectively teach the other children.
As the days went by, Jonathan prayed by himself and with his family. He remembered stories about reverence that he had heard at Primary, and his mother helped him find the sources of these stories and suggested others. Together they looked in the Topical Guide to find appropriate scriptures, and they talked about personal experiences they had had with reverence. Jonathan made choices about what material he wanted to use. In Primary the next Sunday he delivered an insightful and well-prepared talk with conviction.
Parents can help instill confidence in their children by showing them how to receive Heavenly Father’s direction as they prepare talks. Parents can also help by discussing relevant personal experiences and by guiding their children to other useful resources such as Church publications. When parents enable children to use their own skills in preparing talks, these skills are strengthened and, most important, young testimonies can grow.
4. Parents can help children learn the basic rules of expression. Liz, speaking at her mother’s funeral, remembered the talent her mother helped her develop as a young girl. She said: “I stand here before you today as a result of the seed of expression she planted in me many years ago. She coached and nurtured me in preparing and delivering those early Sunday School talks, telling me, ‘Stand up straight, slow down, and speak up so people can hear you.’”
With gentle reminders and opportunities to practice, children can learn how to give talks so that others can both hear and understand what is being said. A small amount of time given at an early age can help a child develop a rewarding lifelong gift.
The scriptures verify the value of listening to the words of children. Alma tells us that “little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned” (Alma 32:23). All of us are blessed when sweet children speak gospel truths. By giving encouragement and direction, parents can prepare children to serve the Lord by speaking His truths in their own individual ways.